It was a cold, windy, snowy day last Friday morning at the Leavenworth National Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kan.
The overcast sky blended in with the somber mood on that precious soil below as four Kansas Vietnam veterans were laid to rest with full military honors, complete with a 21-gun salute. As the sound of “Taps” echoed across those four flag-draped caskets, the tears began to flow from some 40 volunteer members of the Patriot Guard Riders and Kansas veterans organizations.
It was a small funeral but a big one, for, you see, these were four homeless military veterans who passed on with no relatives to mourn them, and one to miss them. Each came separately to a Topeka morgue, and after weeks in which no one came to claim them, state officials opted for a military funeral.
Leavenworth National Ceremony performs a military ceremony once a month for those servicemen who, for some reason, never received one.
The Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration maintains 131 national cemeteries in 39 states (and Puerto Rico) as well as 33 soldiers lots and monument sites. Five additional cemeteries are on the drawing board. Some 3.8 million military members are buried in our national cemeteries.
Military burial benefits include a gravesite in any of the national cemeteries (four in Missouri) with available space, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a presidential memorial certificate, at no cost to the family. Some veterans may also be eligible for burial allowances.
Cremated remains are buried or interred in national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains. There are even burial benefits for spouses.
There are approximately 58,000 homeless vets each night, and included in that number were the Kansas four: Clarke Paul Gould, Robert Lee Norris, Ramsey Phillips and James Allen Young.
No one acknowledged them except for those patriots who attended the 45-minute funeral, broadcast live by WIBW-TV in Topeka, which broke this story.
Their loneliness, their thirst, their hunger, their cold, their constant battle with mental demons and possible substance abuse has ended.
On behalf of a grateful nation they were claimed by those volunteers who braved the elements to personally salute them and to say with tearful heavy hearts. Welcome home!
I give you President John Adams’ toast: Independence forever.
Jerry Plantz lives in Lee’s Summit. His website is at www.Jerryplantz.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.